CIO50 2019 #26-50: Michelle Anderson, The Warehouse Group

Technology is transforming the retail landscape, with the two becoming inseparable, says Michelle Anderson, Chief Digital Officer of The Warehouse Group.

“Customers expect the transition between traditional and digital channels to be frictionless with personalisation and relevance becoming increasingly important to them,” she says.

“We live in a world where the power has shifted to the consumer and external forces such as global sourcing, technology and increased competition are pushing up against us. This has created a need for The Warehouse Group to evolve and reinvent itself as a 21st century retailer.”

This, she explains, is the backdrop of her team’s “Single View of Customers” project that was carried out across multiple functions including Digital, Information Services and Marketing.

She says the project had two objectives.

The first was to become a data-driven organisation that uses analytics and insights to power business decisions to drive sustainable profits.

The second was to transform relationships with customers by understanding more about them through the deep analysis of data, enabling more personalised customer experiences across channels.

“We knew we had a strong customer data asset across the group that there was an opportunity to drive greater customer satisfaction.

“We also knew that better business outcomes would be possible if we could create a single view of customers across channels and leverage that information to develop a better customer experience.”

She noted that companies that invested in, and successfully derived value from their data, have a distinct advantage over their competitors.

“The question was how to pull together the technology to deliver our vision to build a single customer view,” she says.

“We needed to know who our customers were, but with 95 per cent of transactions still happening in a bricks and mortar environment and no loyalty scheme or reason for the customer to identify themselves at checkout, the vast majority of customers were anonymous to us,” she says.

Anderson says the team “stitched” together customer data from a variety of systems - Google Analytics 360, DoubleClick, payment tokens, and the CRM - to create the single customer view.

She says it was important to ensure the data was in a form that could be leveraged for analytical insights and also drive seamless customer experiences.

Key to the success of the initiative was their working relationship with Google. The Warehouse Group team had access to technical and development resource from Google teams, who worked alongside the retailer’s technical, data, analytics and digital marketing teams to deliver the solution.

In the inaugural ‘Warehouse Group Google Hackathon’ the team overcame some of the challenges they faced on completing the project.

This single view (linking digital media interactions, online browsing and purchase behaviour, CRM and email behaviour and instore transactions) offered a wealth of opportunities to the business to both understand customer purchase behaviour, calculate return on advertising spend, and drive sales performance through personalised user journeys, she says.

“I had a really strong team – great talent, experts in their individual fields, who were passionate and determined to get this done. They were up to the challenge,” says Anderson.

As well as strong support from the group executive team, “Our simple single-minded goal kept us on track,” she says.

“By adopting an agile approach and a ‘test and learn as you go’ attitude. we greatly increased our chance of success and were presented with more opportunities to extract value along the way.”

Anderson is on the Group Executive Committee (GET) and is accountable to the Group CEO, Nick Grayston, and the board.

In addition to regular executive meetings, the Group operates ‘Internal Boards’ which allow the GET visibility of activities across the business.

Anderson sits on both the IS and marketing internal boards. She says this allows her to look at the business with a wide-angle lens and identify opportunities for improvement, as well as share her expertise and connections with other departments.

Within her team, she has adopted a ‘flat structure’ where everyone is encouraged to participate in idea-sharing and people can contact her directly. She has also been involved in reinvigorating the Group’s culture and values, launched earlier this year.

She leads a team, the majority of whom happen to be women – but always hires based on suitability for a role, rather than gender.

Furthermore, she personally mentors two women within the business – one at the request of CEO of Noel Leeming and Torpedo7 Tim Edwards, and one through the Group’s Aspire Women in Leadership programme.

She shares some lessons on making tough calls in delivering major programmes.

She says early in her career, she was faced with a ‘go live’ situation that did not go as smoothly as she and her team would have liked.

The first was for a large FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company and involved the cutover of their legacy financial system to a new one.

The cutover was scheduled over a weekend, but due to a couple of challenges that came up during cutover, was running behind schedule. There was pressure from the leadership team to pull the pin and revert back.

“Having worked closely with the team all weekend, I knew that whilst we were behind schedule we were going to complete the cutover before business operations commenced on the Monday with all systems functioning as expected,” says Anderson.

The second incident was when she was already at The Warehouse Group. It was for the ‘go live’ of their first transactional thewarehouse.co.nz.

She says the site speed was poor. “We knew there was no way we could leave the site live in that state, and as we could not find the issue, we reverted back.”

A senior executive at the time reminded her, “No one will remember if you are late, but everyone will remember if you mess it up.”

“From those two situations, both of which required different decisions, I have learned that you need to trust your gut, know your team, understand the real facts and be bold enough to make the right decision to deliver the right outcome for both the business and customers,” she concludes.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

Security vs. innovation: IT's trickiest balancing act